David Gaughran

How The London Book Fair Helps Vanity Presses Exploit Newbie Authors

22 September 2016

From David Gaughran:

The most prestigious event in the UK publishing calendar, the London Book Fair, welcomes predatory operators with open arms, deliberately positions them opposite author events for extra cash, and then helps to whitewash their reputation – even running misleading interviews and puff pieces on its own website to help them get more leads.

I’ve been campaigning against vanity presses and author exploitation for five years now, and one thing that became apparent is the key role of book fairs and industry events in this mess.

Vanity presses are always keen to appear at these events because it:

  • lends their seamy enterprise an air of legitimacy to inexperienced authors who don’t know better;
  • gives them direct access to a pool of newbie authors attending the events; and,
  • creates an opportunity to sell various products to their users such as book signing services and book display packages costing thousands of dollars.

. . . .

I called the London Book Fair this morning posing as a potential exhibitor called Arthur Kerr (sorry, couldn’t help it). Actually, the person I dealt with so nice and helpful that I felt terrible for the subterfuge, but I needed to establish some key points:

  1. It costs more to exhibit near the Author HQ, especially directly opposite same.
  2. Part of the deal (costing several thousand pounds) is a marketing package which includes “lead generation” – marketing speak for “we will deliver even more authors into your clutches.”
  3. No vetting whatsoever is done of exhibitors – even those who explicitly state they are engaged in author services and wish to take a stand directly opposite Author HQ. There were more questions about how many chairs I would like than what my “company” actually did (a big fat zero on the latter).

You might have guessed all of this already, but it was good to get it confirmed: the London Book Fair has absolutely no problem with exploitative author services being positioned where most writers will congregate.

Link to the rest at Let’s Be Digital

Here’s a link to David Gaughran’s books. If you like what an author has written, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

Author Solutions: behind the headlines

27 February 2016

From The Bookseller:

In January Penguin Random House sold its self-publishing business Author Solutions to US investor Najafi. The sale, PRH said, reaffirmed its “focus on consumer book publishing”, but it also felt like a conscious uncoupling from a relationship that was still awaiting consummation.

Penguin bought AS in July 2012 for $116m (£74m), in an effort to take a stake in the growing self- publishing market. At the time, Penguin’s then-c.e.o. John Makinson said “self-publishing has moved into the mainstream of our industry”. He wanted Penguin to “gain skills in customer acquisition and data analytics that will be vital to our future”.The Bookseller said that it was “the day self-publishing came of age”.

Yet if the acquisition made sense in theory, the reality was somewhat mixed. Circumstance was not on its side from the very beginning. The deal between AS and Penguin came only a few months before Penguin-owner Pearson and Bertelsmann, owner of Random House, went public with their decision to combine the trade publishing units. In retrospect some now interpret the AS deal as a way of adding ballast to Penguin at a time when Random House had its own “self- publishing” business: Fifty Shades.

Meanwhile, AS faced its own internal distractions. In May 2013, c.e.o. Kevin Weiss departed, succeeded by Andrew Phillips, then president of Delhi-based Penguin International. In the same month, both AS and Penguin found themselves the subject of a lawsuit filed in the Southern District of New York by three authors who claimed to have been misled by AS (Penguin was later dismissed from the claim). The lawsuit added to the suggestions that AS operated at the murkier end of the vanity market, encouraging authors to sign up to “packages” costing thousands of dollars for services that failed to deliver. The lawsuit claimed AS was a “printing service that fails to maintain even the most rudimentary standards of book publishing, profiting not for its authors but from them”.

AS contested the suits, but the complaints did not come out of the blue. At the time of the Penguin deal, Kate Pool, deputy secretary-general of the Society of Authors in the UK, called the move by Penguin “absolutely extraordinary” and “worrying”. Others had less polite terms: the writer and blogger David Gaughran, who has written extensively about vanity presses—and in particular Author Solutions—says AS operates a “two-bit internet scam”. The Booksellerstopped taking advertising from AS in 2014.

. . . .

[Author Solutions CEO Andrew] Phillips says that much of what is written about AS online is incorrect: “You shouldn’t believe everything you read, particularly on social media. There are stories that circulate that, when you look at them, are not true.” When asked to give an example, he highlights two online commentators— Japet Villamro and Karen Turner— both of whom claim to have worked for AS and who have left critical comments about the company on author blogs. Phillips says the business has no record of these individuals. He adds “just because someone is posting a comment on social media or claims to be an employee, that is not always the case, and when we can actually make contact with a real author, any concerns they have are usually addressed to their satisfaction”.

Phillips says much of the criticism comes from individual authors or author groups that are opposed to the assisted-publishing route. “We try to remain focused on what we do very well, regardless of that social media noise. Having said that, we have engaged, and if any of those parties wanted to have a reasonable conversation then we would engage again, but it seems that [some of them] don’t want to have a balanced conversation. I do think there is a fairly entrenched position with some parties which is: ‘There is only one route, and you shouldn’t have to pay.’ I don’t believe that. My view is that authors should have a choice.”

. . . .

In addition to its own imprints, AS runs a number of partner imprints with traditional publishers, including: Archway Publishing with Simon & Schuster; Balboa Press, a division of Hay House; LifeRich Publishing, an imprint of Reader’s Digest; and WestBow Press, a division of HarperCollins’ businesses Thomas Nelson and Zondervan.

Internationally, it operates Partridge in India, South Africa and Singapore with Penguin Random House; it runs Megustaescribir with PRH Grupo Editorial in Barcelona, for authors writing in Spanish; in Germany it operates GABAL Global Editions with German publisher GABAL, offering US market exposure for German authors; and in Australia it runs Balboa Press Aus.

Each individual publisher partner is able to tailor the packages. Archway, for example, offers attendance to an author reception at BookExpo America for those packages costing more than $4,999. Phillips does not believe—as for example the SoA does—that the association with a traditional publisher is misleading for authors, rather that it means those publishers can offer authors a positive alternative path to publication.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller and thanks to David for the tip.

Here are some excerpts from the comments to this post:

From David Gaughran:

Here is the actual quote I gave to Philip Jones:

Author Solutions has had plenty of opportunities over the years to respond to its critics or address the ever-present issues with its service, but it has always refused to acknowledge any problems. Andrew Phillips himself was given the chance, at his own request, to engage with the Alliance of Independent Authors back in 2014. Instead, he repeated blandishments from press releases and, indeed, has taken no action since then on all the issues raised: http://selfpublishingadvice.or…

I don’t believe that Author Solutions or Andrew Phillips have any genuine interest in reform but I’d be delighted if they proved me wrong by immediately taking steps to remedy some of the worst behaviour – such as the relentless high-pressure flogging of over-priced and ineffective marketing packages, or the dishonest methods it uses to ensnare writers. An example: Author Solutions runs a number of faux-comparison sites like FindYourPublisher.co.uk – which purport to give authors independent advice but merely act as funnels to Author Solutions.

There are problems with all aspects of Author Solutions operations but practices surrounded marketing packages are the most egregious. The products are of questionable efficacy to begin with and are then sold at insane mark-ups. Author Solutions charges $859 for a “Hollywood Review” of a book’s potential for film/screen adaptation, and then farms it out to Craigslist freelancers for just $110. The same crazy mark-ups can be seen in the selling of “web optimized” press releases which cost $1,299, book signings for $3,999, or podcast interviews for $10,669. These practices are simply indefensible and could be stopped tomorrow.

From Orna Ross:

I’m afraid ASI’s hard-sales environment and poor customer service is in no way reflected in this article, in which Andrew is given so much room to talk about his company’s plans and, once again, fails to engage with the author community’s widespread concern.

As well as David Gaugran’s tireless investigation of this issue, many other author advocates — notably Jim Giammatteo, Victoria Strauss, Mick Rooney, John Doppler Schiff, Ben Galley, Emily Seuss, Helen Sedwick as well as I, and the Alliance of Independent Authors’s Watchdog Desk — have all spoken out against practices at ASI.

None of these busy authors is motivated by anything other than a wish to see other authors served well by publishing services, not harassed by sales calls and sold a dream dressed up in expensive packages (see below). We continue to get severe complaints about ASI all the time. I — and others — have told Andrew this. He has displayed no interest in changing practices or addressing author community concern.

ALLi is not opposed to author services — on the contrary, we have a partner membership for good services — but we do warn authors away from services that over-promise, over-charge and under-deliver.

Below are some extracts from a long sales email from one of ASI’s UK imprints, reproduced with permission of the 85-year-old author who contacted our Watchdog Desk, upset and confused having been bombarded with calls urging her to take a “Hollywood package”. The email exchange reveals, clearer than anything I can say, the values at play in this company.

I hope that Andrew will make himself available in this comment box for discussion of the issues. They are serious and they need to be addressed.

With thanks
Orna
Director, Alliance of Independent Authors

AUTHOR: “At the beginning of this year Author House were trying to persuade me to pay for a screenwrite for xxxxx, a book they had published. I thought it was a scam and said so despite the amazing number of times a consultant tried to persuade me. Now his boss has found and liked xxxx (another of the author’s books) so I was treated to another hour of hard sell. I said..I needed something in writing… so they sent the enclosed e-mail… I am a pensioner and not wealthy, I cannot throw money away on a pipe dream… Is this film suggestion a scam? Should I be tempted? Your knowledge of the publishing industry is invaluable. Could I ask your advice please?”

Extracts from the letter to the Author from Author House (spelling & grammar preserved):

ASI: Good Day!

I trust that this e-mail finds you well. First of all, I would like to thank you for taking the call earlier and it was my pleasure to speak about your book. …I hope you agree with me on this that the book’s potential is not just limited to publishing retail industry but even more to Hollywood movie industry…

I know that this book needs this big push so that we could help you with your book’s success. That is the reason why we are doing this. We have carefully analyzed each marketing avenue and we are confident that this would surely provide your book the best possible way to be noticed not just by ordinary person, not just by highly interested individuals but even for those who are decision makers and major executives in the movie industry.

I am suggesting that we do these to create huge and essential noise for your book. Let us win the attention of the major movie companies… As promised, I am sending you detailed plan of the extensive marketing we are willing to provide you and your book.

-COMPLETE MARKETING SET-UP FOR YOUR BOOK TARGETING HOLLYWOOD DECISION MAKERS

-TRANSFORMATION OF THE BOOK TO A COMPLETE MOVIE/MARKET READY PROJECT

-PROFESSIONAL REPRESENTATION TO A+ HOLLYWOOD COMPANIES

-PROFESSIONAL RECOMMENDATION TO HOLLYWOOD EXECUTIVES AND DECISION MAKERS

With Hollywood Director’s Cut package you can seize the initiative with a compelling bundle of services designed to turn heads and get a few crucial nods from film and TV executives in the highly competitive entertainment industry…

I highly recommend that we give your book this rare opportunity be represented well in the industry. I have seen a lot of good titles failed to thrive in this industry not because it was not good enough but simply because the authors fail to see the potential of the book and this is the one thing that I want to prevent. You, of all people, know the value of your book. And your book deserves this huge marketing exposure. The Books-to Screen Hollywood program is by far the most unique and powerful marketing tool the company has introduced to it’s authors. I suggest you take this campaign.


Timing? Never been better, it is the best time to make them see the true essence of your work. Also, movie companies now is in very much in dire need of new concepts, that is the main reason why they are now turning their focus on self publishing authors.

I know how important this project of yours is to you and I would like to tap in these important people to have the book be taken seriously. Not to mention that it will be our company doing the job of an agent for you and the leg work as well, without asking any cut from it. Thus, you will enjoy full control and registration under your name and 100% revenue going your way.

All for the best,

RONALD REESE

Senior Marketing Consultant

AuthorHouseUK

The One Where An Author Steals Text From My Book To Sell Pirated Software

13 January 2016

From David Gaughran:

In today’s episode we are going to out a two-bit huckster who tried to put one over on yours truly, take a quick detour through the verdant fields of copyright law (and the slightly plainer meadows of moral rights), and then end with an example of how to handle a scammer.

Sound fun? Strap yourselves in!

A helpful reader – who will remain nameless for reasons that will become obvious – emailed me yesterday morning. I was just about to start work but the subject line caught my attention: Did You Give Permission For This?

Uh oh. I started reading the message he had forwarded.

It had originated from a domain called IndieWriterSupport.com (you can cut-and-paste that address or Google it, but I’m not linking directly and giving them an SEO boost). And it appeared to be a straight cog from my book Let’s Get Visible.

What was going on here? I kept reading.

At the end of this considerable (2,411 word!) chunk from Let’s Get Visible some text had been added promoting a product called KDSPY – which is the new name for what was previously known as Kindle Spy.

There was then a bit.ly link to purchase KDSPY, which suspiciously went direct to a PayPal purchase page rather than the site of KDSPY, followed by another call-to-action asking people to visit IndieWriterSupport.com – the same domain as the one which had sent the email.

To be clear: I have never used Kindle Spy, let alone endorsed it, and I certainly didn’t write about it in Let’s Get Visible – I think the product wasn’t even launched until a year after I published that book – and I hadn’t written about it anywhere else for that matter. I’d also never heard of the website sending the email, nor given them permission to use my work.

. . . .

What I do have is a layman’s familiarity with legal concepts pertaining to my profession and knew straight away that this guy was breaching my copyright, and probably my moral rights as an author too. The first should be obvious, although there is an interesting wrinkle worth pointing out in case you find yourself in a similar situation.

When I released Let’s Get Visible, I did a few guest posts to promote the launch. One of those was on the blog of ALLi – the Alliance of Independent Authors. The post was essentially an excerpt from Chapter 4 of Let’s Get Visible, the one dealing with Amazon’s category system and explaining how to optimize your category metadata.

ALLi had permission to run that excerpt, but that doesn’t stop that work (and those words in particular) being protected under copyright, and doesn’t give carte blanche for anyone else to use it either.

And, while the definition of “Fair Use” is regularly debated, and defined differently by different jurisdictions and, it seems, different judges, it’s quite clear that this doesn’t fall under any definition or interpretation of Fair Use, especially given that they excerpted the entire chapter and were using it for clear commercial purposes.

. . . .

This “publisher” appears to have been operating since 2013. I found a complaints online dating from then, slamming it for being a crappy vanity press which charges reading fees.

. . . .

The Kindle Spy team were great. I emailed them via their contact page and got a response right away. They were extremely helpful and in a position to confirm two surprising things. First, this guy wasn’t a Kindle Spy affiliate. Second, they reckoned this was the same guy they were already chasing – someone had pirated their software and was selling unauthorized copies of same.

. . . .

[M]y personal favorite where he actually trots out the E word:

Request granted!

Link to the rest at David Gaughran

David also points out a discussion of this organization on Absolute Write.

Here’s a link to David Gaughran’s books. If you appreciate his work in pointing out scams targeting authors, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

FYI: Penguin Random House Is Still In The Vanity Business

7 January 2016

From David Gaughran:

Penguin Random House announced the sale of Author Solutions on Tuesday, leading to headlines stating it has exited the self-publishing business and various commentators congratulating it for cleaning house. Unfortunately, neither of those things are true.

Four Penguin Random House-owned vanity presses will remain in operation – Partridge India, Partridge Singapore, Partridge Africa, and MeGustaEscribir – and will be run as Partner Imprints. You can read more about how Partner Imprints work here, but the short version is that Author Solutions will operate these four vanity presses on behalf of Penguin Random House, and PRH’s job will be to provide leads (aka newbie writers), lend its name and brand to the effort, and then sit back and collect its commissions.

This is precisely how Author Solutions operates Archway Publishing on behalf of Simon & Schuster, Westbow for HarperCollins, and Balboa Press for Hay House, among others. In short, Penguin Random House is still in the vanity business, it’s just flying under the radar – along with many more famous names in the industry.

. . . .

These troublesome little details were overlooked by the press who were keen to trumpet Penguin Random House’s move. Indeed, it has been quite revealing watching the reaction unfold.

When Penguin purchased Author Solutions in 2012 for $116m, virtually all the press had the same angle: Penguin was making a smart move into the fast-growing world of self-publishing. No mention was made of the controversial business practices of Author Solutions, or that the giant vanity press resembled a viable self-publishing platform much in the way a glass of hydrochloric acid is a recommended way to cleanse after the holidays.

Fast forward to 2016, and suddenly Author Solutions has become “controversial” and even “toxic” – and selling the company is being hailed as an even smarter move. But what happened in-between 2012 and 2016? What did Author Solutions do to become toxic or controversial? Why was purchasing the company seen as smart in 2012, but getting rid of it was seen as even smarter in 2016?

Readers of this blog will be fully aware, but readers elsewhere will have no idea whatsoever because the press refused to cover the story. Indeed, in most publications, the only stories they ran on Author Solutions in the last four years were the purchase and the sale – no mention whatsoever of its awful business practices, the widespread protests from the author community, even the class actions.

. . . .

One line being pushed by publishing professionals is that Random House somehow accidentally inherited Author Solutions in the Penguin merger. I can picture CEO Markus Dohle pinching his nose as he made the head of Author Solutions part of his global executive team – obviously under some kind of duress.

More seriously, it’s patently ridiculous to make this claim. Penguin Random House happily continued the aggressive international expansion of Author Solutions commenced by Penguin – even to the point of opening a vanity press right in the offices of Random House Spain and pimping out its editors to sell 4,000 Euro evaluation reports.

Let’s also not forget what then-Penguin CEO John Makinson said when purchasing the company in 2012. “We spent time getting to know the people at Author Solutions and their sophisticated operation,” Makinson said. “They have skills that can help us at Penguin.”

His current job? Chairman of Penguin Random House.

Link to the rest at Let’s Get Digital

Here’s a link to David Gaughran’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

PG says David’s persistent and ongoing investigation into Author Solutions’ various and sundry swindles of the unwary is a great service to authors everywhere.

PG commented when Penguin acquired Author Solutions, the acquisition was a clear signal of how Big Publishing really regards authors.

 

Authors Guild Dumps Author Solutions (And Pretends It Was All A Bad Dream)

30 May 2015

From David Gaughran:

The Authors Guild – which bills itself as America’s leading writers’ organization – has terminated its partnership with Author Solutions.

The Authors Guild joins companies like Bowker, Writers’ Digest, and Crossbooks in cutting links to Author Solutions – a company which has faced a sustained campaign from writers targeting its deceptive and exploitative practices, as well as multiple class actions which are still working their way through the courts.

. . . .

The announcement was made yesterday at Book Expo America, but the Authors Guild decided to bury its own lede. No mention is made of Author Solutions, just a brief mention of the subsidiary which the Authors Guild was partnered with: iUniverse. If I hadn’t been waiting for this announcement, I would have missed it.

It’s almost as if the Authors Guild is trying to airbrush its partnership with Author Solutions from the history books. As if it was all just a bad dream.

. . . .

None of this stopped the Authors Guild renewing its partnership with Author Solutions in 2008, and again in 2011. As an organization purporting to represent its members best interests, surely it would have been aware of the terrible reputation of Author Solutions companies, and how much service levels at iUniverse had deteriorated. Was there another reason why the Authors Guild was so reluctant to terminate this partnership?

. . . .

If you want to verify any of this information, it has all now been wiped from the Authors Guild’s BackInPrint.com website… but the internet never forgets.

. . . .

Things get more bizarre the more you look around. BackInPrint.com had a humorous eligibility requirement. It would only publish work by Authors’ Guild members (understandable), and

Only books that have been previously published by an established U.S. publishing house (no vanity presses or self-published) are eligible.

Wut? That makes no sense at all! It’s like an Irish pub with a “No Irish” sign in the window.

. . . .

I could go on and on about how terrible a publishing option this was – how metadata was routinely screwed up, how the books were overpriced and in the wrong categories, how crappy the covers were because members could only choose between three colors, how Author Solutions’ sales reps attempted to upsell worthless marketing packages, how iUniverse published digital editions of members’ books without permission – but the key point is that publishing with iUniverse was the only self-publishing method recommended by the Authors Guild.

. . . .

I could go on and on about how terrible a publishing option this was – how metadata was routinely screwed up, how the books were overpriced and in the wrong categories, how crappy the covers were because members could only choose between three colors, how Author Solutions’ sales reps attempted to upsell worthless marketing packages, how iUniverse published digital editions of members’ books without permission – but the key point is that publishing with iUniverse was the only self-publishing method recommended by the Authors Guild.

Link to the rest at Let’s Get Digital

Here’s a link to David Gaughran’s books

Digging Deeper Into Author Earnings

27 May 2015

From Phoenix Sullivan via David Gaughran:

The Author Earnings team are attempting to do something which hasn’t been done before, and their work can’t be refined and improved unless there is some intelligent criticism of their approach and findings.

Today I’ve invited Phoenix Sullivan to blog on the topic. I’ve known Phoenix for a few years now, and if there’s a smarter person in publishing, I haven’t heard of them.

KBoards regulars will already know that Phoenix understands the inner workings of the Kindle Store better than anyone outside Amazon.

. . . .

I set aside some time recently to dive into the Author Earnings raw data for the May 1, 2015 Report. The irksome thing about the scraped data is how much of the puzzle that is Amazon’s ebook sales is missing and/or open to interpretative analysis. It isn’t the data’s fault or even the fault of the collection method. It’s simply that the data made public is limited, which in turn means a lot of creative interpretation goes into even so simple a task as coming up with the number of ebooks sold in a day. While the raw data itself isn’t changeable, different tools and assumptions applied to the data can yield different results, thereby opening up the analysis to differing interpretations.

My goal was to apply a set of tools and assumptions that update and possibly correct those being used by the Author Earnings team. The environment has changed dramatically in the 15 months since the first report came out, yet the analytical tools, in my opinion, haven’t necessarily kept up with the times. That in itself does not mean the results are wrong, but without a challenge to them, we’ll never know, right?

. . . .

By far the biggest assumptive correction I’ve made is two-fold: The first part is applying a new set of sales:rank calculations to the dataset and the second part is applying calculations to maintain ranks rather than using the multipliers needed to hit a rank. Let’s be clear that these multipliers are observed only, and best guesses across a lot of observations. However, I do believe the multipliers currently being used by AE are 1) outdated, and 2) don’t reflect the actual number of sales happening for the majority of books that are maintaining rank in the store and not seeing huge rank swings on a day-to-day basis.

. . . .

Amazon’s algorithms take historical sales – among other variables, such as velocity – into consideration when calculating rank. The longer a title remains around a given rank, the fewer sales it takes to maintain that rank. Observably, anywhere from 10-50% fewer sales. That means the multipliers for hitting ranks are not good indicators of unit sales numbers for the majority of books in the dataset. Here is my observed chart for average sales to maintain rank, along with the old and new numbers for hitting rank. More work needs to be done to fill in the upper brackets on the maintain side. I used the same numbers from my Sales to Hit chart when I felt I didn’t have enough data points on the Maintain side to chart new numbers in, but the safe assertion is that the Top 500 in my own data is over-reporting by a conservative 10%.

a1sales-rank
. . . .

Integrating KU into the reporting back in July dialed the difficulty of analyzing the data up into the stratosphere. Unread – and therefore unpaid – borrows influence rank across all titles. There’s no way to know how many borrows eventually become paid reads. And there’s no way to calculate how many units moved on any given title were at full price and how many were borrows, either paid or unpaid. Self-reported numbers suggest the split of paid sales to paid borrows is about 50:50 (which still doesn’t account for the unread borrows that inflate rank), which is what the AE Reports use as well. Using the Maintain chart above, I rejiggered all the numbers. The adjusted royalties may well still be inflated, but are, I think, a closer approximation. The difference for the dataset is a statistically significant 21.4% spread in dollars (or the $400 million difference between $1.81 and $1.42 billion per year):

  • $4,957,365 – original AE result for all earnings
  • $4,848,116 – AE results with the new modeling applied
  • $3,895,691 – my adjusted estimate

and for the KU amounts specifically:

  • $167,687 – AE results for borrows with the new modeling applied
  • $144,201 – my estimate
  • 252,161 – AE estimate for total number of KU units sold/borrowed using the Maintain calculations for Indies + Uncategorized
  • 216,410 – my estimate

. . . .

Since the AE Report looks at aggregated totals over individual sales and positions itself as one factor for authors to consider when deciding which path to publishing to pursue, I decided to see what each book averaged in each publishing path. There are pie charts below, but let’s also use words to be sure the picture is clear either way it’s expressed. If we look at gross sales, we see that the Big 5 had only about 50% of the number of titles available in the dataset than indies had. Big 5 books sold about 78% of the number of books indies sold and made more than twice as much. A lot of that goes into Publisher and Amazon pockets, but what does that really mean? The charts show that indie authors in aggregate earned about 25% more than Big 5 authors. In other words, it took almost 50% more available indie books to earn their authors 25% more than Big 5 authors.

. . . .

From the above, we can say that while market share may have eroded for the Big 5, gross sales plateau’d between Jan and May. Losing market share is not the same as bleeding money. Besides, the ebook market – discrete from the general publishing market – is relatively new. The Big 5 were never part of that market until it became lucrative enough to play in, and only once indies were invited into the market did it start to burgeon. Notbecause of indies, but the timing is inseparable. Big 5 never dominated the market, and a few deviation points here and there doesn’t mean it’s losing the market. And while percentage charts are pretty to look at, they don’t always describe an accurate picture. Ebooks, for instance, have lured a certain percentage of customers away from the used-books market. The Big 5 were not in the used-book market before and their models don’t include that market now.

Link to the rest at Let’s Get Digital and thanks to SFR and several others for the tip.

Author Solutions and Friends: The Inside Story

29 April 2015

From David Gaughran:

Author Solutions has forged partnerships with a long list of famous names in publishing – from Simon & Schuster and Hay House to Barnes & Noble and Reader’s Digest.

Recent disclosures in various lawsuits, along with information sent to me by a Penguin Random House source, detail for the very first time exactly how these partnerships work and the damage they are causing.

Since a second suit was filed at the end of March, Author Solutions is now facing two class actions, with the new complaint alleging unjust enrichment and exploitation of seniors on top of the usual claims of fraud and deceptive practices. It also has a wonderfully precise summary of Author Solutions’ operations:

Author Solutions operates more like a telemarketing company whose customer base is the Authors themselves. In other words, unlike a traditional publisher, Author Solutions makes money from its Authors, not for them. It does so by selling books back to its Authors, not to a general readership, and by selling its Authors expensive publishing, editing, and marketing services (“Services”) that are effectively worthless.

Indeed.

. . . .

Despite Author Solutions’ mounting legal troubles, and an unending stream of complaints against the company from both its own customers and a whole host of writers’ organizations and campaigners, companies are still queuing up to partner with Author Solutions.

Penguin Random House – its corporate parent – has shown no inclination towards reforming any of the deceptive and misleading practices of Author Solutions, or addressing any of the long-standing issues its customers face, handily summarized by Emily Suess as:

  • improperly reporting royalty information
  • non-payment of royalties
  • breach of contract
  • predatory and harassing sales calls
  • excessive markups on review and advertising services
  • failure to deliver marketing services as promised
  • telling customers their add-ons will only cost hundreds of dollars and then charging their credit cards thousands of dollars
  • ignoring customer complaints
  • shaming and banning customers who go public with their stories.

Instead of making any attempt to tackle that list, Penguin Random House has focused oninternational expansion of Author Solutions, a process which has also seen the re-introduction of practices which had previously been banished from the industry, like reading fees.

. . . .

Below is a partial list of the publishing companies which have partnered with Author Solutions to create their own in-house “self-publishing service,” but it gives you an idea of just how many supposedly respectable publishers are willing to profit from exploiting inexperienced writers.

The name of the respective service – or what Author Solutions refers to as a “Partner Imprint” – is in brackets.

  • Simon & Schuster (Archway Publishing)
  • Lulu
  • Harlequin (DelleArte Press) – partnership terminated 2015
  • Hay House (Balboa US, Balboa Australia)
  • Barnes & Noble (Nook Press Author Services)
  • Crossbooks (LifeWay) – partnership terminated 2014
  • Penguin (Partridge India, Partridge Singapore, Partridge Africa)
  • HarperCollins/Thomas Nelson/Zondervan (Westbow Press)
  • Random House (MeGustaEscribir)
  • Writer’s Digest (Abbott Press) – partnership terminated 2014

Some of these companies go to great lengths to hide the Author Solutions connection (Lulu, Barnes & Noble, and Crossbooks being pretty famous examples), and customers of these platforms often aren’t aware that services are being fulfilled by Author Solutions – yet another reason, if one is needed, why victims shouldn’t be blamed.

. . . .

Author Solutions pitches its services to publishers as a way of monetizing the slush pile, offering what it calls “white-label services” to these organizations – which essentially means that Author Solutions will provide the entire infrastructure for their “self-publishing service” and operate it on their behalf too.

. . . .

These relationships are crucial to Author Solutions, as it doesn’t get organic referrals – i.e. for obvious reasons, writers aren’t recommending its services and Author Solutions has severe problems with customer retention.

Aside from providing a false veneer of respectability to Author Solutions’ operations, the only role that the partnering publisher plays is to provide “leads” to Author Solutions, and then sit back and collect the royalty checks. In short, these publishers are pimping out their brand as bait for the Author Solutions scam.

. . . .

The relevant points regarding partners are:

  • Partner Imprints provide identical services, but often with higher prices. For example, the exact same book review package – Kirkus Premium – costs $5,999 from iUniverse and $6,999 from Archway.
  • These higher prices are necessary to cover, in part, the royalty payment to partners.
  • The balance is made up via higher quotas assigned to sales reps responsible for Partner Imprints.

. . . .

The sales force employed by Author Solutions is considerable. Most (approximately 80%) are based in the Philippines, despite deliberately giving the impression they are based in the US. Also, they aren’t identified as sales reps to Author Solutions customers, instead they are dubbed “Marketing Consultants,” “Book Consultants,” or “Publishing Consultants.”

Publishing Consultants are the first to deal with authors, advising them which publishing package to purchase. The only way that Author Solutions measures the performance of Publishing Consultants is the total dollar value of packages sold, so these sales reps are only incentivized to sell the most expensive package possible. If the customer can’t afford a given package, a payment plan is offered.

. . . .

Book Consultants are introduced to Author Solutions customers as the people who will help fulfill the “free” order of books that comes with their publishing packages, but their true role is to convince the author to place an additional order for further copies of their books, beyond the small amount that comes free with some of the publishing packages. From Author Solutions own figures released when looking for a buyer in 2012, we know that two thirds of its revenue comes from selling publishing and marketing packages, and one third from selling books. What wasn’t known until the depositions of Author Solutions executives were made public is that the vast majority of those book sales are authors purchasing their own books.

. . . .

According to a source at Penguin Random House, Author Solutions employs 594 sales reps in its Philippines office, and 138 in its US office, making a total of 732 staff members whose primary role is to sell products to its own customers.

This is in stark contrast to the amount of people dedicated to actually providing basic services to its customers – services which Author Solutions has a duty to provide.

. . . .

A recurring complaint from Author Solutions customers is that the company fails to fulfill purchased services, and also fails to fulfill basic services included in the publishing packages (allegations which are repeated in the class actions).

An example should illustrate why these complaints are so common. A frequent claim is that royalty payments are often delayed, incomplete, or wholly inaccurate – a situation further compounded by abysmal customer service when complaints are made.

You might imagine that calculating the respective royalties for the 180,000 authors and 225,000 titles which Author Solutions has published is a tricky task, especially given that these titles are distributed in several different formats to a large list of retail outlets, many of whom operate in different territories and currencies and pay out a different percentage based on a whole range of factors, including price.

This is how many staff Author Solutions employs to calculate royalties for all those authors and titles: 1.

That’s not a typo, there is one single person to calculate royalties for 180,000 authors and 225,000 titles. One person! And 732 sales reps with aggressive quotas to sell worthless crap like “web optimized” press releases for $1,299, YouTube advertising packages for $4,099, and Hollywood pitching services for $17,999.

. . . .

Staff turnover is a problem in general at Author Solutions, but particularly for the position of the poor person who has to calculate royalties for 225,000 books from 180,000 authors. I’m told that it’s lucky if this staff member can get through two payment quarters without quitting in sheer frustration – which means that a new person has to be regularly trained in, and is always playing catch-up.

. . . .

Among those refusing to comment was Publishers Weekly and I suspect its partnership with Author Solutions runs far deeper than simply allowing it to re-sell blocks of advertising.

. . . .

Obviously, having a financially lucrative partnership with Author Solutions acts as a strong disincentive [for Publishers Weekly] to run an exposé of its shady practices, but there are other factors in play. Author Solutions is owned by the largest trade publisher in the world and Penguin Random House’s advertising spend is considerable.

Penguin Random House has also been actively suppressing the Author Solutions story. One investigation I have knowledge of was supposed to be published in April 2014, but the editor in question decided to kill the story at the last moment.

Link to the rest at Let’s Get Digital and thanks to John and others for the tip.

Here’s a link to David Gaughran’s books

Fighting With Both Hands

18 April 2015

From author David Gaughran:

My goals and dreams have changed a lot since I started self-publishing in 2011. I haven’t been a big success, but I’ve been able to tick off little career milestones along the way. Some months my sales are wonderful, some months they are terrible – generally a function of how long it is since I released or promoted something. Overall, the good months more than outweigh the bad and I’ve been scratching out a living for a while now.

Dream: achieved.

But, as all writers know, the sales maw is insatiable. I’ve been noodling ways to take my career to the next level.

I feel like I’ve got a good handle on the publishing/marketing side of things, but I’m still serving my apprenticeship as a writer – especially as a writer of fiction. Non-fiction comes naturally to me. I find it quicker and easier and (much) less of a brain-melting puzzle. Whereas, fiction is much more of a challenge – probably why I find it ultimately more satisfying.

. . . .

Simon asked why I wrote all over the map: short stories, science fiction, literary fiction, historical fiction, non-fiction, and asked if that was something I would recommend to others.

I believe my reply was something like “Ahahahahahahahahahahahaha… no” before comparing it to fighting with one hand behind your back.

If you look at my output since I started self-publishing it’s, eh, a bit of a mess. I first published a pair of short stories which could be classified as literary fiction, or weird fiction, or slipstream, or whatever. Next was a meatier SF short. Then a book for writers. That was followed by a historical novel more towards the “literary” end of the spectrum. Then another book for writers. Next, I spent quite a bit of time on a dystopian project that ultimately got shelved. After that, another historical novel, but this one was more towards the “action/adventure” end of the spectrum. And so on.

. . . .

I think this is a phase a lot of writers go through – maybe it’s something they need to get out of their system. Most seem to do it at the start, before they find their groove, but we’ve all seen successful authors walk away from a cash cow to write something totally unrelated, and then return to the series/genre that was making them money (when the side-project – as is often the case – generates underwhelming sales).

. . . .

It was time for a wake-up call, which came in the form of a speech Bella Andre delivered at the Women’s Fiction Festival in Matera, where she explained how she went from kind of treading water in traditional publishing to being a multi-million selling self-publisher.

The fascinating part was that she actually sat down and analyzed the market and concluded that (a) most mega-selling authors had a long-running series, (b) often didn’t hit that crazy breakout level of success until as late as the fifth book in a series, and (c) publishers didn’t like offering longer than two- or three-book deals (and, obviously, cut authors loose if the numbers weren’t amazing, or asked them to start a new series, or new pen-name, or whatever).

Bella Andre concluded, if memory serves, that she was going to write a five-book series and self-publish it. Or maybe it was eight books. Either way, the rest is history.

Her new series was an astonishing success and I think it’s up to ten or eleven books now.

. . . .

A light bulb went off (on?) in my head, especially when Bella advised finding the overlap between what you like to write, and what sells. I decided to try sketching out a series that was a little more commercial but still satisfied me creatively. I don’t really mean that in an overly arty sense – it’s more that I can lose focus if I’m not engaged with the idea (see: any number of abandoned WIPs on my hard drive).

Link to the rest at Let’s Get Digital and thanks to Barb for the tip.

Here’s a link to David Gaughran’s books

Three Books

24 March 2015

From author David Wake:

At the end of the film The Time Machine, Filby and the Housekeeper realise that three books are missing from the shelf.  They have been taken into the future!

There’s a scheme by Porcupine Books at the next Eastercon for people to give a short talk on a book that has influenced them.  I’m one of the writers due to whiffle on about a book, but not one of the following three.

. . . .

What are [three books that influenced my life], I wonder.

I think they are The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham, Introduction to Pascal (Second Edition) by Jim Welsh and John Elder and Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran.  It’s rather an odd collection now I write it down.

The Day of the Triffids is also rather a stand-in.  I could have chosen The Chrysalides, also by Wyndham, or any number of others.  I trying to recall that book that got me into Science Fiction, but I’m not sure I remember it or that there even was one.

. . . .

On the other hand, Introduction to Pascal was the manual of a life change.  I went to University to do Civil Engineering – mad idea, what was I thinking – and I realised my enormous mistake about four weeks into the course.  Somewhere I have the very fluid mechanics test that left me high and dry, and pushed me over the edge and into deep water – as it were.  I turned the page over and made notes on the back as I went through the University prospectus to find an alternative course, any alternative course.  So, after Anthropology, Astrology, Astronomy, Biology and Carpentry had all turned me down, Computer Science was next in the alphabet.  They accepted me on a Friday to start the following Monday.  I was four weeks behind, I panicked.

. . . .

During the first workshop on programming, we were given twelve questions and I was hopelessly stuck on Question 6.  You can’t turn a computer round and make notes on the back about Cover Design, Drama, Education or English Language.  (As if I’d do any of those.)  Oh god, I thought, I have just wasted my life.

I turned to one of my brand new colleagues and whispered, “I’m stuck on Question 6 – help!”

“What!” they replied, “but we’re all stuck on Question 2.”

I love programming in Pascal, still do, even though it’s now hidden in an IDE called Lazarus.

Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran did change my life.

. . . .

We got chatting, I started to give him lifts home and he said I should self-publish.

“Oh, but isn’t that vanity publishing.”

“No, not at all, read this ebook by David Gaughran.”

So I did.  Interesting, I thought.  By page 5, I thought I must get a Kindle one day; by page 10, it was on my Christmas list; by page 15, I’d ordered one and by page 20, I was coding in html.  My conversation from occasional playwright to committed indie publisher was faster than someone with a road map to Damascus asking for a bit of light to read by.

Link to the rest at Write Click and thanks to Andy for the tip.

Here’s a link to David Wake’s books

Bay Area Book Festival Defends Author Solutions Sponsorship

21 March 2015

From David Gaughran:

I discovered yesterday that Author Solutions was sponsoring the inaugural Bay Area Book Festival – something at odds with the breathless verbiage on the event’s site:

A new kind of book fair… the largest, most innovative, and most inclusive… [we will] create the nation’s leading book festival.

The event doesn’t take place until June, so I thought it was a good time to try and stage an intervention.

After I sent that tweet I felt a little bad.

Maybe the organizers didn’t know the full history of Author Solutions. Maybe they weren’t aware of the specific scam that Author Solutions runs at events like this. Deciding to give them the benefit of the doubt, I emailed the Executive Director of the festival, Cherilyn Parsons.

. . . .

I sent Parsons an email giving her the full background. I explained how Author Solutions was universally reviled in the writing community, why every major writers’ organization and watchdog group warned authors against using the company, and that Author Solutions was facing a class action for deceptive practices.

I also detailed the way Author Solutions uses its presence at events like this to ensnare new customers and milk existing ones – a common ploy being to sell off one-hour book signing slots for prices up to $4,000 (or up to $10,000 via Archway).

And it was a complete waste of my time.

In their response, The Bay Area Book Festival explained the “logic” behind accepting Author Solutions as a sponsor.

. . . .

  1. Everyone else has their nose in the trough.

Cherilyn Parsons admitted that whether to accept Author Solutions’ money was a “thorny question” but she decided to take the lead of several other festivals:

…such as the Miami Book Fair International, the LA Times Festival of Books and the Tucson Festival of Books. All have been very generous in sharing their expertise. All of them accept Author Solutions as an exhibitor.

How curious that Parsons would only seek guidance from these three festivals – which are very much in the minority when it comes to accepting dirty money from Author Solutions.

. . . .

  1. We didn’t want to make Penguin Random House mad.

This was a real doozy.

Cherilyn Parsons’ exact words:

Author Solutions is part of Penguin Random House, which has been very supportive of the Bay Area Book Festival in sending authors, [and this] led to my decision to accept Author Solutions at the Bay Area Book Festival.

Link to the rest at Let’s Get Digital and thanks to TPV for the tip.

Here’s a link to David Gaughran’s books

Next Page »